With vaccines rolling out all over the country, folks are anxiously anticipating a post-COVID existence and life finally getting back to normal. Everyone is looking forward to looking backward on this era over beers at a crowded bar with a close friend and saying “Hey, remember that pandemic? What a wild time that was!” We’re pining for the day when all of this is comfortably behind us. We’ll let loose a deep belly laugh, our smiles no longer obscured by a surgical mask, and reflect on how surreal this experience was — or maybe not.
As psychologically comforting as it is to dream of the day when this “will all be over,” the sad fact remains: There are more and bigger crises in store for us in the future. There’s a bleak possibility — more accurately a “probability” — that things will get so bad that we’ll actually look back on the time we are in now with nostalgia.
A decade from now, lockdown will be lifted after vaccines for COVID-27 through COVID-29 are finally developed and distributed, then COVID-31 will break out.
When you have to put on a full gas mask to go to the store to buy milk because half the country is on fire and the air is so thick with ash you can’t breathe, you’ll think wistfully about the days when you just could get away with just a strip of cloth over your mouth.
White-collar workers will be permanently working from home, with software tracking their eye movements, so they don’t lose attention during their sixth Zoom meeting that day. Members of the precariat will take to living in their cars so they can catch a few hours shut-eye between 12-hour shifts at Uber Eats.
We’ll look back to 2020, when this was all novel instead of normal, and reminisce about “simpler times.”
There’ll be five big companies that run everything, and everyone will be working for them and buying from them. Every coffee shop will be Starbucks. Jeff Bezos’ net worth will be a cool trillion by then.
Chief Justice Jeanine Pirro will rule it’s constitutional for Texas to limit its polling stations to just a single location inside a revolving restaurant atop the Houston Hyatt, paving the way for the landslide re-election of President Mike Lindell. He’ll order drone strikes on Portland after he declares antifa a terrorist organization and mandate patriotic re-education for everyone who says “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”
We’ll be like, “Hey, remember that time Trump said ‘hamberders?’ Those were the days!”
Every police department will be equipped with a surplus M1 Abrams tank from the Iraq War and a microwave ray that makes your insides feel like they’re on fire. We’ll yearn for the time when they just doused us in CS gas and called it a day.
Our decrepit infrastructure will be falling apart left and right — bridges collapsing, power grids failing, dykes bursting. Every year, there’ll will be a new Katrina. Most likely, there will be more than one.
When we’re eating government-issued protein-rich nutrient paste, we’ll think back to when we got that $1,400 check. Boy, were we lucky back then!
This is hyperbole but it’s probably not too far off the mark. Our current reality is pretty dystopian, and it’s likely to get dystopian-er in the not-too-distant future. Global temperatures continue to rise at an alarming pace, which will mean more forest fires, droughts, hurricanes and other natural disasters. In addition to last year’s apocalyptic wild fires, there were so many hurricanes that they ran out of human names and switched to Greek letters.
Epidemiologists expect more pandemics in the years to come, as habitat destruction due to climate change and environmental degradation brings more wild animals into contact with humans, creating opportunities for animal-to-human transmission.
These catastrophes will have cascading effects, spawning crises both economic and political. Gridlock in government will continue. The balance of power will shift back and forth every two to four years, as the two parties take turns mismanaging the collapse of the American Empire.
Incapable of resolving these contradictions via policy, the downsized neoliberal state will increasingly rely on coercion. Facing fiscal deficits, cities and states will reallocate scarce funds from social services to the machinery of violence. As tensions reach their breaking point, there will be more uprisings like we saw last summer, touching off an endless cycle of resistance and repression.
Making bleak predictions isn’t pessimism for its own sake. There’s an understandable tendency to default to just hoping things get better on their own, but that’s not what’s needed now. We must soberly examine the trajectory of our planet and society, then steel ourselves to do what’s necessary to alter it for the better.
Denying the enormous existential threat facing humanity or retreating into fatalism are both recipes for complacency. This is only a possible future but we can have a different one if we’re willing to organize and fight for it.